Residents in coastal British Columbia experienced an unusual occurrence yesterday: a tsunami warning. A large earthquake struck about 250km off the coast of Alaska around 1:30am Pacific Time on Tuesday, January 23. Alaskan and B.C. residents were warned to move to higher ground in preparation of the wave that was feared to be on its way. Full CBC coverage of the event can be found here. 

Fortunately, by lunchtime the same day the warning was cancelled as emergency teams determined that no wave was forming and residents were safe and free to return to their homes. While some coastal areas experience the devastation of tsunamis more often, B.C. is not usually among those affected.

This serves as a reminder of the importance of risk assessment and preparedness, even for unlikely events. A tsunami would have a severe impact on any organization; so, we put together this list of strategies for both tsunami preparedness and recovery.

How to Prepare for a Tsunami

1. Have an evacuation plan

Organizations should have emergency response plans in place for all natural disasters, even those that seem unlikely. A plan will reduce injury to employees and customers as well as damage to property, and will cut down on response time.

To prepare for tsunamis, be aware of nearby evacuation sites and shelters. It is recommended that you choose an evacuation point that is at least 100 feet above sea level or 3 kilometres inland and can be reached by foot in 15 minutes. Plan a route to get there, and discuss and practice evacuation with employees. Post all emergency response plans in public areas around the building. 

2. Have a disaster supply kit on hand

Key components of this kit include water (allow 1 gallon per person per day), non-perishable food items, flashlights, radios and batteries, a first aid kit, and emergency contact numbers. 

3. Determine the primary risk in the event of a tsunami

This step will allow you to understand the key precautions and mitigation strategies you must take:

  • For service organizations, preventing injury and loss of life of employees and customers is priority. Focus on preparing an evacuation plan that is easy to communicate and fast to implement.
  • For many retailers and other types of merchandise-based organizations, saving irreplaceable inventory is the most important. Determine the most critical and valuable items and a establish a prioritization system for removing them from the site if there is time. But remember, no physical object is worth the safety and wellbeing of you or your employees. If a tsunami appears suddenly, all products may have to be left behind. Regularly update your inventory and stock lists, so assessing damages will be easier once the tsunami has passed.
  • For private service organizations such as offices, saving important paperwork may be a crucial task. Ensure that you regularly backup your data and that original documents are copied, scanned, and kept in a separate area.

4. Consult with a contractor yearly to discuss your organization’s property

They may be able to make improvements or suggest changes that will reduce the damage from a natural disaster, including high tides and flooding.

5. Create a recovery plan

A recovery plan will describe how to return an organization to fully functional following a natural disaster. This will make the process much faster and easier. If there’s time before the tsunami, it can be helpful to contact your insurance provider to discuss your options, although unfortunately, many do not cover damages from tsunamis.

How to Recover from a Tsunami

1. Be prepared to wait

Tsunamis can be absolutely devastating, and it can take officials days or weeks to clean up enough damage to make it safe for the public to return. Make sure you receive an all-clear from an official source before trying to enter the area, and stay up-to-date on public announcements and warnings.

2. Don’t enter your building until you know it's safe

American Red Cross provides some excellent resources on checking a building’s structural elements and its utilities to get an idea of when it’s ok to enter: check the outside for visible structural damage, such as cracked walls or broken foundations; ensure there are no downed wires, electrical systems, or a smell of gas; and avoid areas with sagging ceilings or floors. In most situations, simply use common sense and consult with a professional if you’re uncertain if an area is safe.

3. Take pictures of all damages to the property

Once you know your building is safe to enter, you should take pictures of any damage done to the building. These will be valuable when communicating with your insurance provider.

4. Evaluate the damage to inventory, supplies, equipment, and so on

Determine what will need to be repaired or replaced. Estimating costs at this stage will give a better understanding of when the organization will be fully functional again. 

5. Make temporary repairs

Only if it is safe and you are qualified to do so. For example, clear mud and water out of the building and leave windows open to allow the area to dry up. 

6. Provide support for your employees

Many of them may have lost valuable items, their homes, or even a loved one. Provide time off as needed, offer emotional support systems, or set up a way to help these families financially if possible.  

While the earthquake luckily didn’t result in a tsunami for British Columbia this time, organizations should learn from this warning, as in the future there may be a real threat. Organizations in any coastal area, whether these types of disasters are typical or not, should have tsunami and other emergency plans in place to limit injury and damage to their property. For more information, including a preparation checklist, the Pacific Tsunami Museum has prepared this excellent guidebook on preparing your business for the next tsunami. 

ClearRisk's Claims, Incident, and Risk Management System can also help you prepare for natural disasters and other emergencies. Want more information? Learn more below. 

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